The apartments at Marbella in Radnor/Fort Myer Heights are small and, built in 1947, they're old. But they're clean, bright and livable, renovated in 1998. They're within walking distance of a major public transportation hub and bustling Wilson and Clarendon boulevards.
And now that they've been purchased by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, the 134 units are set to spend at least the next 60 years serving as housing for low-income families.
The $14 million purchase, funded by a combination of local, state and federal loans, continues the effort in Arlington to make sure affordable housing is available.
"Living in an income-segregated community is not good for anyone," said Nina Janopaul, president and CEO of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. "This allows the community to keep that diversity."
In Arlington, where there is no public housing, setting aside living space for low-income residents falls to organizations like the nonprofit partnership, which develop, purchase and maintain properties.
The Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development lists 64 properties -- more than 6,000 units in all -- as "affordable." That's about 14 percent of the county's rental stock. The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing owns 12 of those properties, providing 995 homes.
The partnership reports it keeps between 95 percent and 99 percent occupancy at its properties, and has waiting lists at its more desirable locations, like the mixed-income high-rise Parc Rosslyn, which boasts a rooftop pool and a gym.
Maintaining enough affordable housing "is one of our greatest challenges, even when times are good," said Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman. "There's a high demand to live here. It's a good thing. We've made this a community people want to live in."
But over time, Zimmerman said, the demand for space in Arlington means market-based affordable housing becomes less and less affordable.
Between 2003 and 2009, average rent on a two-bedroom apartment jumped more than $400 per month, a 25 percent increase.
Rents in units designated affordable are based on a family's income as a percentage of the region's median income. In the Washington, D.C., area, the annual median income for a family of four is $106,100.
"We have to run an economy that is complex and dynamic," Zimmerman said. "That requires people who do all different kinds of things: people to maintain buildings, people to work in restaurants. If they have to live a long way away, businesses don't have access to a diverse workforce."
In the greater D.C. area, a household income of $61,500 qualifies as "low-income," and earning $49,200 per year equals "very low," according to the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.
The partnership put a priority on making residents part of the larger Arlington community.
"We want people to know who our residents are," said Kim Painter, an asset manager at the partnership. "They're hard-working families."
The organization's community-building agenda includes offering one-on-one English as a Second Language tutoring, financial literacy workshops and outreach.
"Arlington has a long history of being a working-class community," Janopaul said. "We want to keep that diversity. Arlington views that as being part of a world-class community."